Mabel Annesley (1881-1969)

Flax Dam (c1923)

Wood Engraving

11.8cm x 14.3cm

Courtesy of Board of Trustees of National Museums NI. National Museums NI

Born in 1881, Mabel Annesley was the daughter of Hugh, 5th Earl Annesley of Castlewellan, Co. Down. A keen artist from a young age, she studied at the Frank Calderon School of Animal Painting and at the age of eighteen became a member of the Belfast Art Society. Annesley studied wood engraving at the Central School of Arts and Design, London, under Noel Rooke and became one of the first members of the Society of Wood Engravers in 1924.

In addition to wood engraving, she also illustrated books including Richard Rowley’s, Apollo in Mourne and County Down Songs. As an active member of the Belfast Art Society, she lectured on ‘Wood Engraving’ at 12 Lombard Street, Belfast, later exhibiting her own collection at the same address. In 1933 Annesley held a solo exhibition at the Batsford Gallery, London, and also exhibited in Dublin. In 1938 she exhibited with the Dublin Painters, and in the following year presented Belfast Museum and Art Gallery (now the Ulster Museum) with one hundred contemporary wood engravings, including some of her own. The British Museum also holds her work.

During the Second World War Annesley, who suffered from severe arthritis in her hands which made woodcutting difficult, left her home at 44 University Road, Belfast and settled in New Zealand. In the 1950s she moved to England and died in Suffolk in 1959. An unfinished autobiography As the Sight is Bent, edited by Constance Malleson was published in 1964.

Growing up at Castlewellan Castle, Annesley could see the imposing silhouette of the Mourne Mountains from her windows. Despite being a member of the Anglo-Irish upper classes, the land and working life of the Mournes had a profound influence on her work. This piece depicts the soaking of flax in preparation for its use by the Ulster linen industry and was a practice known for its particularly unpleasant smell.